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A Short essay on the History of Fantasy and Fantasy Art.
Fantasy and Fantasy art is not a new phenomena. Mankind has always been a dreamer and has a strong need for the irrational. Even the prehistoric cave paintings depicts mythical creatures, gods and imaginary fantasy beasts. Pictures from caves in Spain, like the AltaMira Cave, has pictures that are over 15000 years old (Carbon dated). When first discovered, they were believed to be fakes -- how could a simple caveman do such advanced paintings, the Darwinian theory supporters stubbornly declared. Finally, thanks to discoveries of other caves and new proofs the paintings were finally confirmed as originals. The cavemen painted animals, mainly bison can be seen, but also a large abstract figures can be seen.
But if I had to chose a single artists as the father of fantasy art, it would probably be Hieronymous Bosch (c 1450-1516). Bosch came from the provincial city of s'hertogenbosch (Generally called 'Den Bosch', therefore his name) in the Netherlands. He worked in isolation, though he was very aware of the contemporary religion beliefs, astronomic, science and travel literature. He evolved very personal and unique style, incomparable with any contemporary artist.
It was a style of almost disturbing individuality, very remote from the other artists working in the Italian renaissance spirit dominating this time. Boschs works were truly a vision, a hallucionatory and pictures of imagination...
His pictures depict unreal landscapes, burning buildings, wicked human figures, demons and strange almost surreal objects -- all rendered with a delicate precision using all modern painting techniques at that time. This overall sense would later be picked up and further refined several hundred years later by artists like Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger.
Most famous of Boschs' work is the perplexing 'Garden of earthly delights'. It's a large triptych which original function remains obscure. In this painting we can clearly see all the themes that are common in todays modern fantasy art.
In the late 19'th century, the romantic era and the rise of imaginary fiction also became a hint of what fantasy art would be. An example is the paintings of John Martin who did renditions of Armageddon, fantastic architectures and so on.
Fantasy art has its roots in the fantasy literature.
What we today mean with the fantasy genre is something which came into being in the 1960's as an off-shoot of the recent wave of science fiction which was undergoing considerable changes at this time.
Man had just set his foot on the moon and space travel was all by a sudden reality. Technology invaded our homes, TV's, radios and all other electric gizmos had come to stay. More and more people came to the conclusion that 'progress'
Instead of focusing on the technology and look out into space, a new world was discovered. A more human world, looking inside ourselves rather than out. The artist that came into focus was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, a professor from Oxford.
Tolkien, and the breakthrough of fantasy came in the second half of the 20'th century. J.R.R. Tolkien was born in 1892 in Bloemfontein in south Africa. He family was of German origin, but his parents were from Warwick-shire in England. When Tolkien was four years old, the family decided to move back to england due to the bad health of their weak son. In 1896 Tolkien's father died and his mother moved to Birmingham. The young Tolkien didn't find his place in the English society, but dreamed himself away to another world, 'the place were I belong'.
Tolkien was a very gifted (and Christian) man, and eventually studied literature at Oxford, from which he graduated in 1915. In 1919 he became a Bachelor of arts and in 1924 he became a professor at the university of Leeds. One year later he returned to Oxford where he became the professor of Anglosaxian at Pembroke College. For twenty years he stayed here, until he became a professor of the English language at Merton College where he stayed until his retirement in 1959.
Tolkien published his first Fantasy book in in 1937, called 'The Hobbit'. It was considered a rather amusing tales for kids by the contemporary critics. They had no idea that this book was just a tiny fragment of a lifelong work of Tolkien, a world of fantasy he worked on for almost sixty years: The world of middle earth. It was a complete, but unreal, world -- with its own mythology, religion and history. As a linguistic professor, he put great care into producing several new, complete languages for this world -- with their own grammatics, alphabets and pronounce rules. At the age of sixty-three, in 1955, Tolkien finally published the last of the three books in the now legendary books of 'The Lord of The Rings'. These take place in the huge, detailed world of Middle earth. In this aspect, the books of Tolkien are with no doubt truly unique -- no writer has never again put such a great and detailed work into a the creation of a vastly intricate fictionary world. Four years after his death, the 'Simarillion' was published - some argue that this books is the greatest achievement of fantasy. However, if you are not interested in the World of Tolkien, or haven't read his more easily accessible tales - my personal advice is to wait with Simarillion ...
These powerful fantasy epics had a great impact on the readers who were stunned, but it wasn't any smash hit when it first arrived. Gradually, it became more and more popular and more books were printed. After five years, about 25 thousand books had been sold. Sales continued to grow at an amazing rate and sold in millions.
Until now, the fantasy genre had been a small, unfocused area without any attention from the public. Now, Tolkien all by a sudden changed this. The enormous impact of Tolkien created a demand for more fantasy. Today, almost all fantasy books produced are more or less inspired of influenced by the great Tolkien.
One common denominator in all fantasy literature is that its always set in a different world -- an isolated sphere that doesn't follow the rational principles of our own own. Its these imaginary worlds that are expressed in the fantasy art.
The original function of fantasy art was simply to illustrate the literature. The old generation of fantasy artists all started out as science fiction book illustrators. As with other forms of art, it soon became obvious that also fantasy art would survive and become an art form on its own.
In the last decade or two the western fantasy art has become more and more diverse. The Japanese manga style has influenced many artists.
Finally, fantasy art today is no longer doomed to be a second class book cover art form. The mainstream fantasy industry has accepted science fiction and fantasy and the original canvases of the great fantasy artists are very, very valuable.
A comprehensive encyclopedia of fantasy and science fiction art techniques. First published in 1996, this A-Z features professional tips and step-by-step instructions for a variety of styles, from horror to heroic fantasy and creatures to characterisation. There are entries on all major tools and techniques, such as acrylics, airbrush, animation & computer software, pen & ink and explanations on how to apply each one.
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy This huge volume is the first comprehensive encyclopedia of the fantasy field. Not only does it describe the genre authoritatively, but it redefines it, offering an exciting new analysis of this highly diverse and hugely popular sphere of art. With more than 4,000 entries and over one million words, this volume covers every aspect of fantasy--literature, film, television, opera, art, and comics
The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich E.H. Gombrich's The Story of Art is one of the best introductory books on the history of art available today. The combination of Gombrich's insight into various art movements (particularly his discussion of Impressionism and Cubism) and the inclusion of many quality reproductions make this book exceptional.
J.R.R. Tolkien : The Hobbit and the Complete Lord of the Rings As far as i'm concerned this is THE work other Fantasy writers have to measure up to. Even though the story in terms of action and plot turns is a little bit outdated; the first thing you have to remember is the year it was written. Those were different times and there were other factors and circumstances that might have influenced the author.
Realms of Tolkien : Images of Middle-Earth With over a dozen artists, this book provides a great diversity in the way Tolkien's works are visualized. From the intense detail of Alan Lee and Ted Nasmith to the graceful brush strokes of Cor Blok, this book is a must-have!
Tack så jättemycket! Du har räddat mitt svenska betyg!
6 Mar 2004
Most of the cave paintings consist of larger hunted animals and 'abstract' signs, there are a few antropoform creatures, but these are believed to be depicting either shamans dressed as animals or the visions these shamans received during trance. Of course this is difficult to proof, but if we compare with modern day shamans we see a lot of similarities. And as far as I know there aren't any dragon or lizard-like cavepaintings! Oh, and radiocarbon-dating of an artifact is, if possible, used alongside other dating to get the most likely date. Archaeologists aren't stupid! Sorry for all this blabla, anyway, I liked the article!
7 Mar 2004
Wow this is a wonderful essay with lots of incite into things I'm sure many fans of fantasy art don't know and I love your artwork. Though I've been writing an essay on the art of Myth and Legend within the subject of Fantasy art and I just thought i aught to mention that the AltaMira Caves are not actually situated within France. I'm told its in Northern Spain. Good job though and keep dishing out that fantastic artwork.
17 Aug 2004
Adam S. Winfield
Tolkien is indeed the father of what fantasy has become today. I didn't know that was how long he spent making this world of his own (which he bacically did). And believe it or not that is the first picture i have seen of him! Thanks for sharing this information!
22 Nov 2004
That's the first picture I've seen of him, too. It's kind of funny, though. He looks like Bilbo Baggins from the movie, or that he is a character out of his own stories...interesting.
8 Dec 2004
nice article! a little brief, but gives the reader a lot to look into. about the christian themes in tolkien Tracee, did you consider looking at gandalf's death and ressurection? I think you know where I'm going with this.
1 Feb 2005
Was expecting more of an essay on the history of fantasy ART, not a short biography on tolkien. try talking about artists like Boris Velajeo.
1 Mar 2006
I think that you should read a book named Darkesss more than night!
4 Apr 2006
It would have been nice to see at least in small part some mention of the contribution ancient religions have played in fastasy stories and art in history. China, Japan, Ireland, Rome, Germany among many other countries had ancient religions and folk lore that gave birth to many (occasionally in there evolved form) mythical/fantasy creatures and realms that we know today.
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